Selling the Santos show

Santos FC has a proud and enviable history and, thanks to Pelé, is one of Brazil’s most famous soccer clubs. Alvaro Ribeiro is using the past as the basis for a global future.


80 | 81 We have 25 states here in
Brazil and the great clubs
in Brazil are from capitals
like São Paulo,” says Luis
Alvaro Ribeiro, president of Brazilian
soccer club Santos FC. “For instance,
Palmeiras is from São Paulo, Flamengo,
Vasco [da Gama] and Fluminense are from
Rio, Internacional is from Porto Alegre.
“Santos is quite a small city in Brazil,
we have about half a million people.
In São Paulo, which is one hour by car
from Santos, we have one and a half
million fans, and in Santos we have half a
million people so we have three times our
population as fans in São Paulo. We call
it the Pelé effect. We have fans all around
the country, all around the world, due
to Pelé’s success and the team from the
60s. And now we are repeating the same
results to make it bigger.”
For over 40 years, the name of Santos
has not so much been synonymous with
that of its greatest player as dwarfed by
it. Pelé not only led the club through
the most successful period in its now
100-year history – one that included
ten state championships, five national
championships, two Copa Libertadores
and two Intercontinental Cups – he was
also the main draw as it toured every
corner of the world.
Now, though, the team has strung
together a run of success that has led
some to recall the great man and his
Santásticos. Though there has been no
Brasileirão title to speak of since 2004,
the current generation has delivered
three consecutive championships in the
Campeonato Paulista – the São Paulo
state championship – as well as a first ever
Copa do Brasil in 2010 and a first Copa
Libertadores in 43 years in 2011.
This period of success follows the
election of Ribeiro as president in 2009
and is something he attributes to the new
management reconnecting the club with
its “DNA”. “What’s our DNA?” he asks.
“Our DNA is that of a very offensive
team. We are the team that has scored
the highest number of goals ever. We
have scored almost 12,000 goals in 100
years and no other club has scored so
many goals in history. We always have
young players on the field. We don’t win
championships with only old players or
famous players but with younger players
and players that we built at home.”
Alongside that the club has,
Ribeiro says, undergone a commercial
transformation. “We became a real
company here, not a club,” he says.
“Not friends running a football team
but professional executives running
a company.”
Ribeiro is speaking from Santos’ offices
in Brazil in the company of a number of
those colleagues: his press officer Kamila
Malynowskiy, Armênio Neto, the club’s
marketing director, and communication
manager Arnaldo Hase. The 69-yearold,
who made his money in property
development, has been associated with the
club for around 17 years, many of them as
an advisor. He believes it has moved on
from the days of “amateurs working in the
management of football.”
Balancing financial objectives with
sporting ones is a particularly delicate
task in a country with such a passion for
soccer but Santos will claim its approach
is delivering results. Since his election
in 2009, Ribeiro reports that the club’s
earnings have quadrupled – something
he is happy to attribute, in part, to wider
growth in soccer and the Brazilian
economy – while its debts have been
restructured and no longer press so firmly
on its day-to-day capabilities.
And in a case of déjà vu, Santos can
again boast a global star and maybe –
just maybe – another potential great in
the distinctive shape of Neymar. At 20
the striker is already a pivotal figure for
both club and country, delivering major
titles for the former and scoring a goal
every two games for the latter. “He is a
natural winner,” says Ribeiro. “He has this
winning spirit that’s very important in an
athlete. And talking about sport he might
lead the best generation for Santos FC.”
Santos FC has a proud and enviable history and, thanks to Pelé, is
one of Brazil’s most famous soccer clubs. Now, armed with one of
the sport’s most prodigious new talents, Neymar, president Luis
Alvaro Ribeiro is using the past as the basis for a global future.
Selling the
Santos show
By Eoin Connolly

SportsPro Magazine | 801
Comparisons with Pelé are inevitable,
if flattering, but in the modern game the
likelihood of a player’s identity becoming
so indivisible from a club as his did are
slim. Brazilian club soccer is not quite as
dependent on player sales as it once was.
Certainly, the situation is vastly different
from the 1990s, when it briefly – allegedly
– became commonplace for clubs to lobby
the Brazilian Football Confederation
(CBF) to consider mediocre players for the
national team in the hope of adding a zero
or two to their transfer value.
But the sheer spending power of the
European giants remains persuasive.
In August one of Neymar’s peers, the
explosive 19-year-old midfielder Lucas
Moura, moved to Qatari-owned French
club Paris Saint-Germain in a deal
reportedly worth a bracing €45.5 million
(US$58.17 million). It is unsurprising
that similar enquiries have been made
about Neymar.
Some time ago, Ribeiro called his staff
into his office with some news that would
utterly alter the club’s relationship with its
young star. “We have a huge proposal for
Neymar to sell him to Chelsea in the first
moment, and also to Real Madrid and to
Barcelona,” he said.
Pelé, famously, was declared a national
treasure by the Brazilian government
early in his career to head off the likes of
Real Madrid, Juventus and Manchester
United at the pass. It took a diplomatic
intervention from Henry Kissinger before
Pelé could join New York Cosmos in 1975,
and that was after he had been in semiretirement
from meaningful professional
soccer for over two years.
Santos cannot call on such authority
to protect its golden child from foreign
interest but Ribeiro is a man possessed
of his own philosophy: “We must sell the
show and not the players.” A transfer fee
for Neymar, went the discussion, would
fund the signings of “two or three new
players” and help to pay down debt, but
it would not be enough to “change the
club’s history” and there was a greater
opportunity in store.
“So we said no,” remembers Ribeiro.
“Neymar can change our history, can help
us to make our history better, so let’s keep
Neymar. It’s as simple as that.”
Neymar has since agreed a long-term
contract and though he is widely
Santos president Luis Alvaro Ribeiro wants to lead
the club into a new era of success by renewing
old sporting values while embracing a more
professional approach as a business
expected to try his luck in Europe some
time after the 2014 World Cup, his
continuing presence in Brazil is a real
boon both on and off the field. Not
for nothing did SportsPro name him the
world’s most marketable athlete earlier this
year. “It is clear that the value of our shirt
with Neymar is different to that without
it,” Ribeiro told the Brazilian media last
November as Santos renewed a deal with
shirt sponsor Banco BMG, reportedly
upping the fee from US$10.3 million to
US$13.8 million a year in the process.
From the Libertadores to London 2012
the forward seems to carry an electricity
with him wherever he goes – which may
explain his hairstyle – and attendances at
the Estádio Vila Belmiro have risen 8.5
per cent since his arrival in the Santos
first team. The management at the club
believe that with his flair and his taste
for popular culture and social media
Neymar gives them a line into a youthful
demographic, and he is described in
glowing terms as a spokesperson.
“He is a genius at communication,”
says Ribeiro, “phenomenal at
communication. It’s quite easy to work
with him and to build strategies with him.
He’s very smart, he’s a very fast learner,
he’s great. So with this brand issue,
Neymar is very important for us because,
how can I say this, he brings together all
that our brand means. Neymar is perfect
for that, for our strategy.”
The club has worked hard to exploit
Neymar’s media profile in Brazil, not
only to its own advantage but also to his.
Their activities have led to an arrangement
which, if not quite unique in Brazil, is
arguably uniquely successful.
“We have five sponsors on our jersey,”
explains Ribeiro, “it’s very different when
you compare it to England, for example,
or European teams. When we arrived at
the club [in 2009] we had in sponsorship
something around US$3 million per year.
This year we have something around
US$13 million in 2012. So it increased
a lot. TV rights increased something
over 100 per cent. We negotiated our
TV rights separately, not together with
the other clubs. We talked with the
broadcasting company by ourselves so
the negotiation is very individual.
“We have Neymar. Only Neymar has
11 sponsors – individual sponsors. It’s
something that we built for him. It’s a
career brand that we built for him in 2010
when he had the proposal from Chelsea
and we said, ‘No, you’re going to stay
here.’ We approved the figures with him.
‘You’re going to earn these figures here
and we’re going to put this money in your
hand, in your pocket, 70 per cent is going
to come from sponsors.’”
It is a concept that the club believes
makes Neymar “perhaps the cheapest
player for Santos” and an internal
marketing team works directly with his
representatives on a portfolio which
includes blue-chip brands like Panasonic,
Unilever and Volskwagen. Similar models
are already being prepared for the benefit
of 19-year-old midfielder Felipe Anderson
and even 16-year-old Victor Andrade, who
made the step up to the first team to some
acclaim while star players were in London
for the Olympics. “We were pioneers here
in Brazil,” says Ribeiro.
As its finances have come under
Brazil striker Neymar is Santos’ best player and has over 100 career goals at the age of just 20, while
off the pitch SportsPro’s Most Marketable Athlete is seen at the club as a “genius at communication”
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control the club has sought to establish
a more “European model” for its
commercial affairs – maximising income
from sponsorship and merchandising, TV
rights fees and stadium-related income
– but in order to stay competitive in the
short term it cannot relinquish control of
the transfer fee safety valve just yet.
“We have to sell players,” admits
Ribeiro. “So the most important thing
is to keep the most important players
and sell one or two players for proposals
that we can’t refuse when they come.
And that’s what has happened in the last
few years, there were proposals for two
or three players that we couldn’t say no
to. But we say no when they try to sign
Neymar or another star.”
As Ribeiro is fond of saying,
“Sometimes you have to sell the satellites
to maintain the planet.”
The club makes no secret of its desire
to maximise the profile of its exciting
young side by taking it to other parts of
the world but those ambitions are limited
by the extensive Brazilian schedule. The
Peixe played 77 matches in 2011, including
a traditional state championship that may
seem anachronistic to outsiders but is
difficult for the club to disregard due to
local rivalries and a responsibility to the
lower reaches of the Brazilian game.
Continental competition offers an
opportunity for international exposure but
South America has yet to produce a cash
cow equivalent to the Uefa Champions
League. Santos’ Copa Libertadores win
in 2011 ensured that this would be an era
to remember, as well as providing a route
to the Fifa Club World Cup and a global
audience for a showdown with the might
of FC Barcelona. But for Brazilian clubs,
Ribeiro says, such achievements are “more
important in the sports field than in the
economic field.”
Santos stood to receive around
US$300,000 for beating Copa
Sudamericana winners and Chilean
champions Universidad de Chile in
September’s Recopa Sudamerica. By way
of comparison, Major League Soccer
(MLS) side New York Red Bulls were
happy to pay a fee closer to US$500,000
for a weakened Santos team to open Red
Bull Arena in a friendly match in 2010.
“They paid us half a million dollars
to play one match,” says Ribeiro. “So
now we are receiving proposals to play
abroad and the teams are talking about
US$800,000, US$1 million, something
like this, just to play one match. So when
you see these figures you realise that
Conmebol [South American soccer’s
governing body] is not paying enough.”
That argument may rumble on for some
time but, in any case, Brazilian soccer will
not be short of domestic opportunities in
the next few years. The first Fifa World
Cup in the country since 1950 is now less
than two years away and with the Rio
Olympics to follow in 2016, the sports
industry is being profoundly altered.
“Well, we live in the decade of sports
here,” purrs Ribeiro. “It’s not only the
World Cup, we are talking about the
Confederations Cup, we are talking about
the Olympics, and I believe that several
of the most important sports marketing
agencies in the world are opening
operations here in Brazil. The economy in
Brazil is very strong. We have the muscle
to sign with the most important players
around the world.”
Ribeiro cites the example of Dutchman
Clarence Seedorf, one of the most
successful players in club soccer history
in his time with the likes of Ajax, Real
Madrid and latterly AC Milan, who
eschewed the chance of an easy payday
for a new challenge at Botafogo in Rio.
But it is not just on the field that big
names are being attracted to Brazil. For
Ribeiro, the World Cup is part of a wider
movement that will see sport in the
country brought somewhere closer to its
natural capacity.
“If we are the fifth biggest economy
around the world,” he says, “we can’t be
the 15th market for football, for example.
It doesn’t combine. I really believe that
everything is going to be arranged like
that and investment is going to come.
We are talking to several companies here
that never, ever thought about football,
about sport, that are looking to work
with football teams as platforms for
communication and business.”
If Brazil does gravitate back towards
the centre of the footballing universe
then Santos will be in a mood to take
advantage. Senior figures at the club have
a bold vision for its future, one based
on their idea of how the global soccer
economy will come to look.
“We believe that as you have in
automobiles, we are on a path of having
five, six, eight brands around the world
with the control of this market,” says
Ribeiro. “We believe this is going to
happen in football also. You’re going
to have perhaps ten, 12 international
brands of football.”
The names of those Ribeiro would put
in that bracket could easily be guessed
– the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid,
Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
“Manchester City,” he says, “are trying to
be another brand.” And so too are Santos.
“We want to be one of these brands in
the next ten years, OK,” he reveals. “It’s
our goal. That’s why we signed a contract
with Pelé in the last year. Pelé was our
player, he played only for Santos – after he
played professionally, he signed a contract
with New York Cosmos.
“The reason we signed with Pelé in
the last year was not only to use his face
in our membership programme and our
anniversary celebration and everything
else. No, no, no, we are talking about a
connection with our two brands, Santos
and Pelé, to reach several markets around
the world. And now, when we signed with
[kit supplier] Nike this year, we changed
from Umbro to Nike, I believe we joined
the three brands to give us the strength
to reach further markets. And we decided
in our last meeting with Nike that the
markets that we are focused on are going
to be on the east side of the map.
“We’re talking about China, we’re
talking about India, we’re talking about
Japan and the United States. So it’s very
important to have a brand like Nike, with
this kind of penetration, and to have Pelé
who is a face recognised all around the
world. So I believe that the team is built.”
“We are talking to several companies here
that never, ever thought about football, about
sport, that are looking to work with teams.”

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